PLANT CITY — The final match of last season served as a punctuation mark to a forgettable year for Durant volleyball. The Cougars stumbled through the regular season, were seeded the lowest ever in school history for the district tournament and capped off the year with a semifinal loss to Newsome.
"I think the girls understand how difficult the end of last season was," Durant coach Jeff Davis said. "I thought we played well during the season against some tough competition, but the end was tough."
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Durant, a tradition-rich volleyball school. To make matters worse, the Cougars led Newsome 2-0 in that semifinal before dropping the final three games to end the season.
"That loss," Davis said, "was devastating."
Especially for a school with three state championships and a pair of second-place medals in the trophy case. But Davis and the Cougars have managed to put their rocky 8-19 2009 season behind them and have rebounded to enter next week's district 5A-8 tournament as the No. 1 seed.
"There's still work to be done," Davis said. "Being No. 1 doesn't mean we're automatically going to win this tournament."
Durant enters the tournament with an 11-4 record (as of press time), and the Cougars (6-0 in the district) have lost just one of their 19 games in six district matches this year.
"Just like last year, we played a tough schedule to get them ready for districts," Davis said. "They have seen some very good teams, and I think that will help prepare them."
Taylor Hackemack is the catalyst of the offense. The dynamic 6-foot-2 setter already has verbally committed to Mississippi State and is at full strength after being hampered last season with broken bones in each foot.
"She didn't play until late October for us," Davis said of last season. "And she was never even close to 100 percent when she came back."
Senior outside hitter Alison Wade leads the team in kills (154) and aces (25). Senior Kerrie Reinhardt is the second attacking option and along with junior Chelsea Bowden, clogs the middle for Durant. Senior Katlyn Messick is the Cougars' defensive specialist and vocal leader.
"(Messick) is your prototypical libero," said Davis, referring to Messick's defensive speciality. "She's always barking instructions and diving all over the place. She's spunky."
It remains to be seen how far this Cougar team can go, but Davis believes Durant has the capability to end up at next month's state finals in Lakeland.
"If we clean a few things up and play up to our potential, I think we can make the Final Four," he said. "I think we have a legitimate chance."
XFC goes international in Northern Cyprus
The Xtreme Fighting Championships, a mixed martial arts promotion based out of Brandon, held a card last week in Northern Cyprus. It was the promotion's first card outside the United States after a scheduled 2009 event in Germany was canceled due to pressure from local authorities.
Even up until hours before XFC 12: Mayhem was set to begin, authorities in Northern Cyprus threatened to pull the plug on the event and throw XFC president John Prisco in jail.
"I have much greater respect and admiration for (Ultimate Fighting Championship president) Dana White and the UFC," Prisco said, referring to difficulty UFC had staging MMA events in Europe. "They broke ground here many years ago, and I see now more than ever the incredible efforts it must have taken to even allow a show to go on, much less all that goes into putting on an event. It is because the UFC was willing to pay a price others were not willing or able to pay that allowed us to make XFC 12 happen."
The XFC's next scheduled card will take place Dec. 3 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.